By Julien Van Caeyseele
May 1948. The Princess Elizabeth of England and His Serene Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, begin an official trip to France, punctuated by several ceremonies in Paris and Versailles. After his obligations The Republic of Seine-et-Marne of the time recalls that the princess had wished to spend “a day of recreation and relaxation. »
A Not So Private Tour
“It is quite naturally towards the marvelous sites of the region by Melun and Fontainebleau that the princess, in private, wanted to direct her steps”, notes the journalist of the time.
But with such a move, the visit makes a lot of noise and will not remain private: “A princess is always a princess and the friendship that all French hearts have for her was stronger than the desire to let the future queen enjoy incognito of this day,” he continues.
In 1948, Elizabeth was 22 years old. She would not be crowned queen until a few years later, in 1952. That day, she was greeted with great pomp by an enthusiastic crowd on the castle square in Fontainebleau. At 12:50 p.m., it’s excitement. A Daimler passes through the doors and parks at the foot of the horseshoe staircase.
“The princess comes down, smiling, dressed in an elegant turquoise blue outfit in the best taste,” describes the journalist. Hubert Pajot – then mayor of Fontainebleau – and all the local elite are there to welcome him.
The kings of France shared his passion for horse riding
“She would have asked in French – which she spoke perfectly – ‘But where are the stables that housed the horses? ‘, rewinds Marie-Christine Labourdette, president of the Château de Fontainebleau. Legend has it that he was told that the castle did not have one, but several royal stables: the king’s large stables, in the Héronnières district, and the small stables, which became the Military Riding School (EME). »
Still according to the confidence of the president of the castle, “she would have smiled, amused to see that the kings of France shared her passion for this noble animal and horse riding. Elizabeth then visits the large apartments, the throne room and Napoleon’s bedroom.
“The princess will also admire, through an open window, Diana’s garden and the carp pond,” said the reporter at the time. The bellifontaine visit ends with the castle chapel before signing in the guestbook. For lunch, the procession then takes the direction of Barbizon and the Auberge Aux Charmettes (see box).
On the menu: hors d’oeuvres, sole meunières, Bresse chicken, butler style, Fontainebleau cheese and a fruit bowl, all washed down with a Grand Cru Pommard. “A very simple meal”, assures the journalist who notes that the customers of the day had “the privilege of sharing the same menu as the princely couple”. But no privilege at the time: “Even when the greatest are the hosts, the rationing is respected”, he insists. The manager will receive several ration tickets (they will disappear in 1949) for the princely table.
From Barbizon to Maincy
During the meal, the news has spread and a compact crowd is waiting for the princess at the exit. The procession leaves by car, direction Vaux-le-Vicomte. On the road, from Dammarie to Melun, thousands of onlookers cheer him on. Arrived at the castle, she is welcomed by the French aristocracy and local elected officials. This is followed by a short visit to the castle and then a drive through the gardens.
Only a few hours after her arrival, she will return to Paris via Guignes and Servon… But the procession will have to slow down several times so that Elizabeth can respond to the cheers of the population. “During this visit, she was – then still secretly pregnant with Charles, who was born that year”, points out Marie-Christine Labourdette. Elizabeth II has thus walked in the footsteps of the many French and foreign sovereigns who have come to visit the Château de Fontainebleau for centuries. The castle pays homage to him today with respect. »
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